Girl, Serpent, Thorn
Melissa Bashardoust's Girl, Serpent, Thorn is “an alluring feminist fairy tale” (Kirkus) about a girl cursed to be poisonous to the touch and who discovers what power might lie in such a curse.
There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.
As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.
Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming...human or demon. Princess or monster.
Bashardoust (Girls Made of Snow and Glass) combines Persian language and tales, particularly "The Shahnameh," with European fairy tales and Zoroastrianism to create a world replete with deadly gardens, mothlike beings, and haunting burial grounds. Cursed with poisonous skin by a div, one of the Destroyer's "demonic servants," Soraya has hidden within her family's palace walls for 18 years, fearful of staining the reputation of her twin brother, the shah of Atashar. When female div Parvaneh is captured, Soraya seeks a way to end her own poisonous curse and live freely with Azad, one of her brother's soldiers. But after learning that her cure requires the elusive, magical bird that protects the kingdom, Soraya finds herself in a perilous situation that challenges everything she knows about her family and herself. Scenes are lavishly detailed, Soraya's inner turmoil is rendered with drama as she chooses whether to be "a mouse or a viper," and the connection between Soraya and Parvaneh is stirring. Though weighty foreshadowing mars plot twists, Bashardoust's exceptional attention to folktale structure and Soraya's hard-won acceptance of herself make for a lyrical, inspiring read. Ages 12 up.
A lovely queer historical fantasy
Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a Persian-based historic fantasy with casually queer relationships that felt very integrated into the cultural setting. The fantasy elements are drawn from Persian mythology and Zoroastrian motifs, backing up a coming of age story involving curses, family secrets, and the desperate ends to which loneliness will drive you. The writing style fits well into a YA classification, focusing on themes of self-knowledge and finding one's place in the world. The imagery is delicious and the characters all feel solid and well motivated. I'd love to say something more lyrical about the book, but I"m just coming out of my quarantine-driven reading slump, so "I picked up this book and read it all the way through and enjoyed it" is pretty high praise for the moment!
This is one of those books where it took some independent confirmation to clarify the queer content. (The blurb leads one to expect a m/f romantic thread.) Glad I didn't miss a lovely story because of the coyness of the publicity!